No matter from what direction you first see the Olympic Mountains, you’ll be smitten by their rugged beauty. What you don’t initially realize is that this amazing piece of land is surrounded on three sides by saltwater. With the open Pacific Ocean to the west, the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north, Puget Sound on the east and sliced into two peninsulas by Hood Canal, this mountainous land mass would have, in any other time or place on the planet, been a country of its own. It is a green, watery wonderland around its edges. It is a soaring and mighty wilderness and rain forest in the middle.
The extremes are amazing. At breakfast time you might hike out onto Dungeness Spit and get your feet wet in the saltwater of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, enjoying the view north to Canada and south to the United States. By noon you could open your backpack to enjoy a sandwich in the alpine meadows of Hurricane Ridge, taking in the blue sky, gray rock, green forests and glistening white glaciers of the Olympics’. You could spend a day surrounded by the antiquated charms of Port Townsend, a 19th century boomtown with enough ginger breaded mansions to make Queen Victoria feel right at home. Out at Kalaloch, the Pacific rolls in with such thundering force that you’re left with little doubt that you’re facing the largest ocean on earth. When a storm blows up, the waves can toss the massive timbers that have washed up on the beach as if they were broom straws. And the roar is as frightening as it is exhilarating.
In the Hoh Rainforest, the great green mosses hang down from the big-leaf maples like tattered banners in some long abandoned medieval castle and your nose fills with the damp earthy scent of wilderness so lush that the woods are a thick impassible tangle of vegetation. Up at Neah Bay, the Makah Indians preserve a culture that stretches back millennia. But in a diagonal line just over 100 miles to the southeast, life on Bainbridge Island one of upscale, 21st century country living, where commuters to downtown Seattle board jumbo ferries to read newspapers and sip coffee on their way to work in the skyscrapers.
Old, tiny, and picturesque towns are nestled among the hills and waterways. Port Gamble, Port Ludlow, Poulsbo, Kingston, and Shelton are settled along inlets of Puget Sound. Potlatch, Hoodsport, Lilliwaup, Eldon, and Brinnon hug Hood canal. A ride up US Highway 101 on the west side of the canal, or a drive across the Hood Canal Bridge is a window into some of the world’s most awe-inspiring vertical splendor. The mountains rise right out of the sea and soar into the clouds, leaving little doubt that this is a place suspended somewhere between heaven and earth.
The North Olympic Peninsula
If there’s a section of Washington that can be deemed sacred, it is here on the North Olympic Peninsula. With a broad reach that extends from the rugged, snow-capped peaks of Olympic National Park to the dramatic, windswept beaches of Cape Flattery, the Olympic Peninsula defines what wild Washington beauty is all about.
Here, you can hike deep into the lush Olympic rain forests or choose solitude as you walk the endless miles of uncrowned Pacific Ocean beaches. This is where wildflowers and wildlife flourish; where spotted owls and Roosevelt elk claim their own natural territory. Often overlooked are the vast cultural resources that can be enjoyed here. Impressive 19th century architecture, a rich and varied performing and visual arts community, Indian cultural exhibits and a host of popular and unique annual events make this destination a great travel choice.
After crossing the Hood Canal Bridge near Port Gamble, you may want to head south on Highway 101 along the western shores of the breathtaking Hood Canal. This unusual 61 mile saltwater fjord is home to plentiful shrimp, oysters, great sailing and exquisite sunsets. On this route you will encounter Quilcene and Brinnon. Local outfitters, suppliers and a US Forest Service office are ready to help you find some of the most scenic hiking trails on the Peninsula, along the Dosewallips and Duckabush Rivers into the National Forest and Olympic National Park.
If you’re heading to Port Townsend, a good route is along the shores of Ludlow Bay to the residential community of Port Ludlow. The recreational attraction to golfers, boaters, vacationers and connoisseurs of fine dining is the expansive Resort at Ludlow Bay, which features the Olympic Peninsula’s premier 27 hole golf course and a full service marina with boats and kayaks to rent, a harbor tour, and charter boats for fishing and sailing.
Continuing north from Port Ludlow, Port Hadlock, Chimacum and Irondale, commonly referred to as the “Tri Area”, are the hub of eastern Jefferson County. This commercial crossroads links Victorian Port Townsend in the north with Port Ludlow and the Hood Canal Bridge to the east, and the “Emerald Towns of Hood Canal”, Quilcene and Brinnon, in the south. Access to scenic and recreational attractions on Marrowstone Island is through the tri Area
Situated on the northeast tip of the peninsula is the historic city of the Victorian Age echo throughout. Quaint shops, captivating art galleries, lively seaport pubs, historic architecture and colorful festivals will inspire you with each return visit. Today, this city has gained an international reputation as an arts community and builder of wooden sailing vessels and state-of-the-art motor yachts. Port Townsend is home of Centrum, a year-round arts and education program that include the city’s Country Blues Festival and the renowned Port Townsend Writers’ Conference.
Port Townsend is designated as a National Historic Landmark and is one of only three Victorian seaports on the National Registry. This authentic Victorian community was once slated to become a prime shipping port but now offers golfing, biking, kayaking, antiquing, wine tasting, local theater & concerts, making the “City of Dreams” your year-round cultural and outdoor destination. Washington State Ferry service runs between Port Townsend and Keystone on Whidbey Island.
An hour’s drive from Port Townsend, the city of Sequim is famous for its wonderfully dry weather-a happy by-product of the “rain shadow” effect. It is said that the sun shines more here than anywhere else in western Washington. The Dungeness spit, jutting nearly five miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, draws nearly half a million visitors annually. The Olympic Game Farm, located here, has many endangered wild animal species as well as several veterans of the silver screen. Sequim, home of the Lavender Festival, has a bevy of antique and gift shops, galleries and fine restaurants.
A few minutes west of Sequim, you’ll enter bustling Port Angeles. Here you can stock up on supplies, find plenty of good food, comfortable hotels and B&Bs, and stroll through the charming downtown district’s shops and galleries. This deep-water port is the gateway to Olympic National Park, the famous Hurricane Ridge, and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada with daily ferry service.
A lovely day trip just twenty miles west of Port Angeles is Lake Crescent, over eight miles long and plunging to a depth of some 625 feet. Rent a rowboat for a lazy afternoon, and then take an easy mile-long hike along the cedar-lined trail up to 90-foot Marymere Falls.
Along the northern coast, the communities of Clallam Bay and Sekiu lie 50 miles west of Port Angeles on the Strait of Juan de Fuca Highway off 112, a newly designated National Scenic Byway. These seaside villages provide a perfect setting for great fishing, bird watching, coastal hiking, and beach combing, or diving below the spectacular Pacific waters.
Clallam Bay and Sekiu are near the cut-off to Lake Ozette and the ancient petro glyphs; they are close to miles of Olympic National Park coastal trails, and offer a gorgeous view across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Vancouver Island.
The small fishing village of Neah Bay rests on the northwest tip of the Peninsula. The cultural center of the Makah Nation, Neah Bay’s Makah Cultural and Research Center allows visitors the chance to view artifacts recovered from an ancient fishing village at Ozette. There is also a marina, harboring over 200 commercial, sport fishing and pleasure craft.
A short drive from Neah Bay brings you to rugged, wild Cape Flattery, the most northwest point of the contiguous United States. Wildlife, from 250 different species of birds to sea otters, sea lions, seals and whales, are all part of this area’s significant attraction.
The western Peninsula
Nestled between the dense rain forest valleys and the wilderness coastline of Olympic National Park, Forks is the perfect home base for exploring the west side of the peninsula. The Hoh Rain forest and several pristine Pacific Ocean beaches are all within an hour’s drive. To the west, at the Indian village of LaPush, migrating gray whales can be seen from February through April. Kayakers, surfers, and seals add to the view year-round.
Explore the northwest Coast, the very northwest corner of the Pacific Northwest, and visit the Makah Museum and Cape Flattery near Neah Bay. The Lake Ozette Wilderness beach hike, glacier-carved Lake Crescent and the Sol Duc Valley are also within a short distance of Forks. While here, don’t miss Olympic West Arttrek, a self-guided driving tour of gift shops, studios and galleries from Kalaloch to Neah Bay. The Forks Timber Museum features pioneer, logger and coastal Indian history.
The road leading to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center, and the spectacular Hall of Mosses Trail, is off Highway 101 just a few minutes south of Forks. Another 15 miles south of the Rain Forest Road on Highway 101, Kalaloch is a beautiful year-round destination featuring a pebble beach with impressive surf, tidal pools and prime waters for smelt fishing. Picturesque Ruby Beach offers a crookedly charming creek, dramatic sea stacks, and garnet-colored sand.
Olympic National Park
The Olympic National Park, in the heart of the peninsula, lays claim to rugged and rocky ocean coast and the regal Olympic Mountain peaks with its rainforests and coastal valleys. Teddy Roosevelt declared this area a national nature reserve at the turn-of-the-century; a status which resulted in few roads and trails for accessing this natural wonderland. Hurricane Ridge, rising above Port Angeles, offers spectacular views and the most popular access to the park. The paved road that rises 17 miles up a steep grade to the mile-high summit is well worth the drive. A lodge offers summer-only accommodations and a winter concessions stand for skiers and snow shores. If you’re a high adventure type, try bicycling along the Obstruction Point Road, a twisting gravel road that continues for another eight miles along the crest from the parking lot at Hurricane Ridge.
Within the Olympic Nation Park is Sol Duc Valley, with several scenic day hikes and rejuvenating hot springs. From Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, hike for 1.6 miles round trip to Sol Duc Falls to one of the largest and most beautiful waterfalls in the park, seen from a bridge that crosses the canyon just below the falls.
On the western coast of the Peninsula is the Lake Ozette Trail Loop, a beautifully maintained nine-mile trail system that creates a long remembered hiking experience. As you travel a 3-mile planked trail to the ocean beaches at Sand Point, you’ll be privy to a visual feast of fern-covered forests blanketed in precious stillness. Continuing along the beach, there are 300-year-old petroglyphs at Wedding Rocks, ancient drawing that are remnants of the Makah and Ozette tribes that once lived here.
A 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle places you on beautiful Bainbridge Island. The island, about the size of Manhattan, is a great escape for bikers, birders, art lowers, shoppers, readers, sailors and theater-goers. Downtown Winslow offers wonderful dining and exceptional shops within walking distance of the ferry. Off of Highway 305, the island’s main artery is the Bainbridge Island Vineyard and Winery, the 150-acre Bloedel Reserve, two waterfront State Parks, two superb nurseries, Battle point Park, with its unique kid’s playground, and 22 inns for overnight guests.
Maritime history buffs will want to visit the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, specializing in undersea exploration and warfare. Nearby, the community of Silverdale developed into the county’s major retail center when the navy selected Bangor as the West Coast Trident submarine base. Old Silverdale, with its small shops and restaurants, features a very nice waterfront park, boat launch and marina on Dye’s Inlet. A few miles south of Silverdale – or less than an hour’s ride by passenger ferry from Seattle – the largest city on the peninsula, Bremerton is home of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and the Kitsap Historical Museum. Here, you can visit a Navy destroyer and stroll along a delightful waterfront promenade.
Downtown Bremerton is alive with galleries, quaint shops and restaurants. An active visual and performing arts community here showcases several excellent art galleries. Performances by the Bremerton Symphony and local theatre troupes draw enthusiastic crowds.
The city’s parks department is a source of local pride featuring well-manicured gardens and two fine golf courses in the Gold Mountain Golf complex.
Directly across the water to the east of Bremerton, you’ll see the welcoming Kitsap County seat of Port Orchard. To get there, drive around the inlet on Highway 3, or rid the passenger-only ferry from Bremerton. Founded in 1886, its historic buildings contain an array of restaurants, antique stores and museums. Jump aboard a Kitsap Harbor Tours boat for a narrated tour of the Navy’s mothball fleet or a cruise to Tillicum Village. McCormick Woods and Trophy Lake golf courses are nearby and provide an excellent challenge for golfers of all skill levels.
A very pleasant drive from Port Orchard, along Sinclair Inlet on Highway 160 winds around Rich Passage through roadside communities of Manchester, Colchester, Colby, Harper and Southworth. From Southworth, you can board a ferry to Vashon Island, past Blake Island, home of Tillicum Village, and on to West Seattle.
Another good way to start tour of the Kitsap Peninsula is to cross the Sound on a scenic 30-minute ferry ride from Edmonds to Kingston. Stroll through Kingston’s friendly downtown district and enjoy the waterfront ambiance, farmer’s market and cozy cafes and shops.
Take a slight detour north on the Hansville Road, to photograph the stately Point No Point lighthouse. Fishermen from around the world flock here to reel in a salmon while taking in the view of Admiralty Inlet, Whidbey Island and Puget Sound. The Nature Conservancy near Foul Weather Bluff is world famous for its migratory bird watching.
Follow Highway 104 toward the Hood Canal floating bridge and you will pass through historic Port Gamble, a once-mighty logging town that retains much of its 1850s character. The original New England Victorian-style homes have been preserved, along with the country store and church, making this a National Historic site.
Kitsap Peninsula is filled with warm and friendly waterfront communities, scenic drives, outdoor recreation, art, and shopping galore. Charming hotels, motels, cozy B & Bs, and resorts await your overnight stay. You’ll find the area’s colorful Indian, logging, and maritime history, all proudly displayed. Whether quiet solitude and relaxation in tranquil beauty, or rigorous outdoor activities suit your fancy, it’s available here on the Kitsap Peninsula.
Get hooked on Mason County
The communities surrounding the south Puget Sound “hook” of Hood Canal in Mason County provide great access to all of the south Sound population centers of Olympia, Seattle and Tacoma, the Pacific Ocean beaches and the Olympic National Park.
This central location, combined with access to nearly unlimited outdoor recreation, makes it a perfect place from which to explore this part of the state. Nearly every community offers a small hotel, B & B, RV park or campground – and be sure to pack your hiking boots, scuba gear, boat and golf clubs.
A good way to experience this diverse county is to plan a couple-day loop tour. Enter from the south via Shelton by taking I-5 exit 104 west and head north on Highway 101. The best approach from the north will bring you across any of the cross-sound ferries to the Kitsap Peninsula. Take Highway 3 south, entering Mason County at Belfair on Hood Canal.
Belfair is home to the internationally-acclaimed Hood Canal / Theler Wetlands, with four miles of scenic walking trails open dawn to dusk every day. The Mary E. Theler Community Center offers North Mason Visitor Information. Visitors will enjoy boating, fishing, camping and gathering shellfish at nearby Twanoh and Belfair State Parks.
Highway 106 south along the Hood Canal will lead to Union, where visitors can enjoy a round of golf at Alderbrook Resort or visit an eclectic array of small shops. Continue around the “hook” up Highway 101 north and you’ll find Hoodsport, known as “The Gateway to the Olympic Mountains”. Camping or trout fishing at Lake Cushman, along with scuba diving and hiking are popular activities.
From Hoodsport, you can loop back to Shelton on Highway 101 south or continue your journey west on Highway 119 to the trailheads of the Olympic National Park.
Shelton, Mason County’s largest town, offers a downtown historic walking tour and a Visitor Information Center in an authentic red caboose hosted by the Shelton-Mason County Chamber of Commerce. The popular Oysterfest, held here the first full weekend in October, features an Oysterhucking Championship, a Seafood Cookoff, wine tasting and live entertainment.
Highway 3 north will loop back to Belfair and the waterfront community of Allyn on Puget Sound’s Case Inlet.
Regardless of how you acquaint yourself with this unique area, there’s more outdoor activity to enjoy than you can possibly fit into any one vacation. That’s why generations of families return here year after year.